Once a month, I talk to another writer about their writing routine. We answer questions such as Are you a plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between? , Do you write every day? , Where does your inspiration come from?, What’s your beverage of choice?, and many more! At the end of each episode, the writers recommend their favourite book on writing and share their advice for establishing the right writing routine for you.
This month, I talked to Julia Blake, a multi-genre author from England.
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[The Writing Sparrow theme]
Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow Podcast. I’m Sarina Langer. This podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.
Sarina: Good morning, and welcome back, friends and Sparrows. It’s the 12th of April 2021. This is Episode 31. Today, I have Julia Blake back with me to talk about her writing routine. Welcome back, Julia.
Julia: No, I’m just thrilled that you actually have me back, obviously I behaved myself last time.
Sarina: Of course. You did very well last time.
Julia: Oh, thank you.
Sarina: I didn’t do very well last time, because we’ve got a few questions– well, quite a few questions last time from your followers on Instagram. There’s one that [00:01:00] I completely forgot to ask about. If we start with that one today, and I’m very sorry, Bruce, that I forgot about your question last time, we will start with it today. Then, I also have with usual 15 questions that I ask every writer who comes in to talk about their routine. You’ve just told me as well that your internet connection is a little bit unstable, so we may run into some issues with that, but hopefully it’s fine. If we start with author, Bruce A. Hansen’s question from Instagram, which is most commercial author stick to one genre, the masses seem to really like that. What advantages and disadvantages have you seen in your approach?
Julia: Okay, first of all, hi Bruce, thank you for the question. Again, this question implies that there’s actually a method to my madness.
Julia: I know that [00:02:00] if I was traditionally published, they probably would pin me down and say, “Right, pick a genre.” That is probably the biggest reason why I like being indie published, because I have complete freedom. I have autonomy over what I can write because I just love stories. I love telling stories. For me, the genre doesn’t really matter. Now, I took a conscious decision– well, maybe not a conscious decision, but I think at the beginning, people did suggest to me that I use a different pen name for every single genre and I think we’ve touched on this before, but I’m so far up to eight different genres, I would have schizophrenia, I would not know who I was, and marketing that many different genres, I get quivers just thinking about it.
Sarina: It sounds like a nightmare.
Julia: It does, it sounds like a real identity crisis going on there. I have enough going on without dealing with that as well. I then realized that [00:03:00] people were actually– although people sorted out this issue for me, they were like, “Oh, Julia Blake, she’s the multi-genre author.” That kind of put a label on me, which I was happy with that, I’m comfortable with that. From that, the tagline developed Julia Blake, an Author for all Seasons, and I sort of ran with that as well. I really liked it because an interview I did way back several years ago, the interviewer actually put that label on me and said, “Oh, so you’re an Author for all Seasons,” and I really liked that. I thought, “Yes, I like that.” So, I’ve run with that as being my tagline. Am I commercially viable? Probably not.
Julia: So, is any indie author commercially viable, really? Also, I think the thing was having lots of genres under your belt. If the reader doesn’t like a particular genre, well, I’ve got another seven, eight. I’ve got a good one that you will like. Maybe in a way, not [00:04:00] having all your eggs in one basket does actually increase your readership. I hope that answered your question, Bruce. [crosstalk]
Sarina: I think it does. That was quite thorough and in depth. Hopefully, that’s all right. I think it eased my mind a little bit every time I consider writing in another genre. Thank you for that. If we start with the 15 questions that I ask everybody, let’s start with the most important one on my list. I think I actually already know the answer to that one. Are you a plotter or a pantser or somewhere in between?
Julia: Oh, complete and utter freefall, no parachute, no planning, no looking ahead, pantser. Let’s just jump out the plane and see what happens.
Julia: I could not plot my way out of a paper bag, because when I sit down to write a story, usually I have the title, I have a character and I have a vague concept, but that could change. [00:05:00] I just write the first line, get the first line down, and then it’s linear for me. I’m not one of those authors who jumps ahead and writes the scene and then goes back. I start at the beginning, and I just work my way through until I hit the end. Yeah, pantser, definitely. Although I don’t like that word, being British, that just denotes underwear to me. I wish they think of a new word for us.
Sarina: Or, we do need something different. If you’re a bit of both, which I think most writers are, then that’s quite easy, because you can then put plotter and pantser together to make plotster, for example, which I think works a lot better. [laughs]
Julia: I think I’m organic. I’m an organic writer. Let’s put it that way.
Sarina: Let’s run with that then. what does your writing routine look like?
Julia: Ooh, again, routine. A tricky word for me. I’m the world’s worst procrastinator. It takes me absolutely forever to put my backside down in the [00:06:00] chair and actually start writing. I will think of a million different reasons why I should not sit down and write. “Ooh, the shed needs sorting out.” “Ooh, I need to go and clean out my freezer.” There’s always a reason why I shouldn’t write. But then, when I decide to and I sit down, it’s like a little voice inside me says, “Ooh, you actually love this. Why haven’t you done this more often?” Then, once I get my teeth into a project, I’m absolutely tunnel vision. I like the house to be quiet and I like to be alone in the house. Of course, this past year, that has not happened very much. [crosstalk]
Sarina: No. It’s been a little bit difficult for people like us who need silence when we are writing.
Julia: Yes. I’m not one of those writers who can have a playlist blaring in the background because I would just stop, come into the music and I will get totally– I would find I was typing the lyrics into the story– [crosstalk]
Sarina: Yes. That’s how I am with that.
Julia: Yeah, I need silence. And if the people in the street could possibly shut up as well, that would be very nice.
Julia: I don’t have a lot of [00:07:00] complicated stuff, there is just my desk. I always write at my desk, it’s my writing zone. When I sit down at my desk, it’s because I’m going to do something author related. It’s my work zone. I can’t write sitting on a sofa with my laptop, because I’d need six strong men to straighten my back, back out of the [unintelligible [00:07:21] afterwards. It’s always at a proper chair, at my desk, with my laptop, and the only equipment I have is a glass of water. That’s it. It’s not too close to the laptop. After the “hot chocolate” incident in 2016, I’m not allowed to–[crosstalk]
Julia: Yes, there were casualties. I’m not allowed to have beverages anywhere near my laptop anymore.
Sarina: Oh, that sounds terrible. It’s the last thing you want, isn’t it? When you’re just sitting down and you have high hopes of writing all the words, and then, bam, laptop broken because you spilled your drink, and you spilled the drink.
Julia: Yeah, hot chocolate, all over the laptop.
Sarina: You lose a– [crosstalk] Oh. [00:08:00] That sounds painful. [chuckles] I feel like we’ve maybe preempted this next question a little bit already as well, but I’ll ask anyway. Do you set yourself specific goals when you sit down to write? For example, do you have a certain number of words in your head that you want the overall work in progress to have? Or, do you set yourself a certain amount of time to write for every day?
Julia: No. I don’t write every day.
Sarina: That would have been my next question.
Julia: I think that can be a little bit of misleading. That’s misleading information for new authors, write every single day, or you’re not a proper writer. Well, if all you’re doing is you’re at home, and all you’re doing is writing, and it’s your job, and it’s what you earn money from then, yes, obviously that gets priority. But sadly, like most indie authors, I’m not in a position where my writing is my main job. My main job has to come first, because that’s what pays all the bills. I’ve completely lost track. What’s the question again? [00:09:00]
Sarina: Do you set yourself word count goals, for example or– Yeah.
Julia: Well, for the actual book or for each writing session?
Sarina: Either way.
Julia: Okay. Well, if it’s a book in a series that I’ve already written books for, for example, The Perennials Trilogy, nearly was 175,000 words. Daisy, I think almost 160,000. I know when I write the third book, it’s going to be in that ballpark. It’s going to be because obviously, if you’ve got the books lined up on a shelf, you can’t have big book, big book, tiny book. There has to be continuity in a series. Likewise, when I’m writing the Blackwood Family Saga, they all clock in at between 52,000 and 54,000 words. They’re short, snappy reads. Of course, the other books I write in that series must fall into that word count. You can’t go any further. But if it’s a new book, and I’m sitting down to write it, I really have no idea [00:10:00] how when many words that is going to– usually too many. When I wrote Black Ice, it started out– it was going to be a short story, and it’s only going to be 3000 or 4000 words long. Well, 150,000 words later, I paid no attention to that word count whatsoever.
Individual sessions, when I sit down to write, I’m more of an idea person. I sit down and think, “Right, I’ve got this scene that I want to write, I would really like to get that scene down today. Never mind about the word count, it doesn’t matter if it’s like 800 words or 8000 words, it doesn’t matter. This scene, I want to get down. I don’t want to walk away halfway through the scene.” Usually my brain goes, “Okay, you want the scene,” and the words just play out to me. Then when the scene is done, I’m usually exhausted, and I’m dry. That’s it for now, so I stop. There’s no conscious, sort of, I don’t sit down and think, “Today, I’m going to write 3000 words.” I think that’s just setting yourself up to fail. If you say that and then you only manage 2000, you’re going to feel [00:11:00] dreadful. But if you sit down and just say, “Well, let’s just see what happens. I would just love to get some words done.” You do 2000 words, you’re going to go, “Wow, awesome. That’s brilliant.” I think set realistic goals is the tip anyway in life.
Sarina: I think sitting down with the goal of just writing a specific scene is quite a good approach for it as well, because obviously, your individual scenes are going to make up the entire book. So, if you already have a strong idea for a scene, and you know you have time to write, and you’re excited to write the scene, why not try to get the whole thing done? I don’t massively like stopping in the middle of any one scene or any one chapter. But at the same time, it then also helps me to get back to it next time I go back into write, but it can also be really fulfilling, I think, if we can wrap up a whole scene in one session.
Julia: Also, I think, if you write, especially if it’s something like a battle scene or an action scene, if you can get that down in one hit [00:12:00] in one mad, panicked, urgent rush, I think that comes out in the writing. I think that sense of urgency does come through in the writing, and it will put the reader right in the moment. I think sometimes people can overthink things like that.
Sarina: Yeah, I think so. Just speaking from my own experience, I’m terrible at writing battle scenes, for example. When I plan them because I’m a plotter, see? [chuckles]
Sarina: When I go into the writing sprint for the day, for example, I know that I have this battle scene to write. I’ve known for a while that I would have this battle scene to write eventually, but I have no idea really when the time comes to do it, how to do it. My notes will just say write epic battle scene and I just stare at it and go, “Um, character picks up sword, character hopes to not die.” I don’t know. I’m terrible with writing things like battle [00:13:00] scenes. I agree that if you already have the energy for it, and if you’re feeling really pumped up to write it, then that definitely comes through in the writing, assuming that you know what you’re doing, which is never a given on any day.
Julia: No, certainly not for me.
Sarina: Has your writing routine changed at all over the years? If so, what have you changed and why?
Julia: No, I’ve always written in this way. When I first started writing novels, my daughter was very young, she was a baby, and she was going down for long naps. My word, that child slept for Britain.
Julia: I’m not complaining but sometimes it was quite alarming how much she slept. I used nap times and knowing that I was against the clock that she could wake– She was generally a good child, she did sleep a lot but she could wake at any moment. My writing time was going to be curtailed at some point. It’s like, “This is the time I have to write, so you better write, girl.” [00:14:00] There was none of this, “Do I feel like writing? No, I don’t.” It was that, “This is the only time you’re going to have to write, so you have got to write.” I think I need that kick up the backside. I need that kind of– If I’m given too much time, I will fill it. I will faff about and then suddenly, I will go, “Ooh, no, I have a lot of time to write now.” Whereas if I’m told, you have an hour, hour and a half, tops, get to it. Then you sit down and suddenly in that hour and a half you’ve done 3000 words, that is how I cut my teeth writing novels. I think that habit has stayed with me. Now when I decide to write, I’m going to write now. I sit down and I just hammer out the words.
Sarina: I was really surprised last year to see that I really work in exactly the same way. I figured when I stay home to write, if I do it full time self-employed style, I’d get a lot more writing done because I wouldn’t have any other distractions in the way like a day job. [00:15:00] But that’s not at all what happens. As you said, if you have too much time on your hands, you end up filling that time with other things. I think because I had that much time, I always thought, “Well, if I don’t write today, doesn’t matter, because I can then write tomorrow.” But then the next day, I had exactly the same thought. Now, that I’m back at the day job, and actually, when I still went in physically, back in the day, when that was a thing, when we were allowed to do that, I made a point of getting up earlier so I could write for just 15 minutes in the morning. Like you said, I then had that urgency of, “If I don’t write now, I’m not going to get any writing done, so this has to happen. Or else, I’m not going to do any.” It’s probably some of the best words I’ve written to be honest because you then have that urgency.
Julia: Yeah. I think is probably as well, that’s one of the reasons why a lot of authors didn’t write, or don’t write well in lockdown, because there’s, “Oh, I’ve got all day to write,” and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. “You know [00:16:00] what? Today, I’m just going to put on my pajamas and watch Netflix.”
Sarina: I eventually got into a better routine. To begin with, it didn’t help that I had burned out pretty badly, in my defense, which isn’t much of a defense because I pushed myself into a burnout. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be, so that’s a lesson learned.
Sarina: I think now when I sit down to write, I do now have a lot more time because we’re in lockdown. But I still try to limit how much time I give myself so that I don’t feel– Well, if I want to write longer, I can. So, I do tend to set short timers, 15 minutes or half an hour is what I try to limit my writing time to now. Then, I feel that I write with so much more focus.
Julia: There is nothing like a time constraint to really sharpen the mind, really make you realize that, “This is the only time you’ve got, so make the most of it.” For me, the timing of lockdown was both good and [00:17:00] bad, because I was embarked on updating and republishing several books. I had [unintelligible [00:17:06] that I was doing, three Blackwood books plus The Book of Eve, of course, that was a huge major reconstruction job. They just coincided with the first lockdown. Everyone was saying to me, “Oh, I bet you’re writing lots in lockdown.” Well, actually, no, I’m not, but I hadn’t planned to. Even if I was still at work, this is what I would still be doing because– but the only thing was, instead of it taking me six months to get these four books or five books out, it only took me three. So, lockdown was great in that I had all day to sit down and edit, format, and source images and cover and things like that, it was great in that way. If I wasn’t doing those books, then I would have written.
The irony is that as soon as lockdowns lifted, and I went back to work in June, and we got Book of Eve out in July, that was a big push. We got that out in July. I sat down mid-August, [00:18:00] and started Black Ice, six weeks later, 150,000 words was out, and that was on top of working. I did do overtime as well, so it was on top of doing my job, plus overtime. I think time is irrelevant issue, isn’t it? If you’ve got the time, you tend to fill it.
Sarina: Yeah. That was going to be my next question as well. If lockdown has affected your writing at all? But it sounds like for you, it’s been very beneficial.
Julia: It has. It’s given me time to do stuff. Then, of course, November, we were back into lockdown for a month in November, and that was the month in which I published Black Ice. So, having whole days to do final edits, final polishing, final formatting, setting up all the promo material, liaising with my formatting company, and just getting it out. That took up the whole of November. Then, of course, I went back to it, and then we’re back into lockdown now, but, of course, at the moment, [00:19:00] I am just going to grab doing a few other bits and pieces of tweaks, I’m working on my website. I’m trying to branch out into other social media because Instagram seems to have issues, so I’m sort of exploring other platforms as well. I’m constantly busy with writer things, but not actually writing, if that makes sense.
Sarina: Yeah. There’s a lot more that goes into writing a book anyway than just the writing that isn’t there. It might feel like you’re not being productive in terms of actually writing the thing, but really, you are doing a lot of work towards that.
Julia: Yes. Promoting is obviously a big thing that goes on behind the scenes and readers are not aware of it, and that takes up a huge amount of time.
Sarina: Massive amount of time.
Julia: [crosstalk] -time I would rather be writing, but there it goes.
Sarina: It’s to be done. It’s a necessary evil. What writing program do you use?
Julia: Oh, all the writers out there all going to laugh at me. I have a really old laptop and [00:20:00] it has basic Word on it, and that’s what I use.
Sarina: That’s enough. You don’t need anything fancy.
Julia: I don’t need anything fancy. I literally don’t. I know Word. Before my current job, I was a professionally trained secretary, and I understand Word, I know how to use it. Everybody sort of lauds the benefits of using things like Scrivener, and I just look at them and think, “Why should I pay to have something when I have something that does the job just as well?” I’m sure Scrivener is fine, and maybe in the future it will be something I’ll explore but at the moment, I like Word, I understand it, and I tend to get things done, I understand.
Sarina: I do have a love-hate relationship with Word, because when it works, it works really well for me. I love using Word for editing. So, I write in Scrivener, and I edit in Word. But when it doesn’t work, and when it breaks down, I’m always ready to throw my laptop out the window because I feel like every now and again, for no reason whatsoever, Word just closes itself down [00:21:00] and restarts and I do not understand why.
Julia: [laughs] There are certain issues of Word, section breaks and pagination over section breaks that has caused me many a tear.
Sarina: That’s a formatting issue though. That’s not Word though, that’s just formatting being– it’s horrible, hell itself.
Julia: Well, they made it as difficult as they could possibly make it. I’m sure there were easier ways.
Sarina: Thank God then for businesses like Platform House Publishing that make it so easy, and they just do it for us. Bless Becky.
Julia: I do all of the formatting so when I actually send my document across to Becky, it is in the correct template. It has got all the section breaks, it is paginated, it has all the dropped capitals, it has all the headings, it has the illustrations, everything is perfect. So, she literally just goes in, tweaks it, [00:22:00] make sure everything stays where it’s put. She does some kind of magic, arcane magic, some of the illustrations-
Sarina: It is.
Julia: -so they don’t go wandering off. I don’t quite know what she does. I think she waves a wand and stirs up a potion. I don’t know quite what goes in there. Then, when it comes back to me, I know I can rest assured that I can upload that into KDP and it won’t move. When I go in and look at the preview, I won’t go, “What? No, that’s not what I wanted.”
Sarina: That was my problem back in the day when I first started writing my first book and I was still using OpenOffice. I swear I edited one thing, and everything shifted. Oh, I hated that thing. I’m sure it works perfectly fine for people who really understand it, but it’s not the program for me.
Julia: I remember early days, Becoming Lili is a huge book. I remember it was all perfect in the Word document, so I uploaded [00:23:00] it to KDP. When I went into the preview, it had all shifted ever so slightly, so it had knocked all my chapters out, knocked all the page numbers out. I had a lot of chapters that ended with a little orphan, just kind of one line at the top of the page, which I absolutely hate. I was going back in and trying to pull everything back and then uploading it and looking, “No, it’s still not right.” Then going back down, nightmare. Now, thank goodness for Platform House Publishing, and the adorable Becky, she just does it all for me. [crosstalk]
Sarina: She loves doing it. I always think I may as well. Makes her happy, makes me happy, everybody wins. I think you’ve already mentioned this a little bit earlier, but what are three important things you need to have when you’re writing? I don’t know if tea was mentioned.
Julia: Tea first thing, definitely. I’m a tea drinker first thing in the morning. Then when I’m actually writing, a big glass of water. I don’t know if I breathe faster or I just dehydrate or [00:24:00] something but I get incredibly thirsty when I’m writing. I’m always gulping down water. Peace of mind, I have to have an uncluttered mind. If I’m worrying about something, then the words just don’t come. If I’m stressed or I’m really upset about something, it’s very hard for me to write because the way I write is literally just open up my brain and then it goes straight from my imagination to my fingertips. I think if there’s clutter in my head, it stops the process. It gets in the way of the thoughts, you know what I mean? So, a clear head definitely.
A decent chair. I have slight back issues. If I slump or slouch, which I’m bad for doing, especially as I sit for long hours, sometimes I’ll sit for 8, 9, 10 hours writing and if I’ve not had my back, my spine properly supported, then I will pay for those 10 hours. Also, when it’s cold, fingerless mittens, [00:25:00] because if my wrists get cold– I find my wrists get really cold when I’m writing, and then I get really sore wrists and I get repetitive strain injury. I’ve found that just a nice pair of cheap woolen wrist warmers, fingerless mittens, and that sort of solves the problem. That’s my needs, quite simple.
Sarina: I was meaning to get myself some nice fingerless gloves for writing, especially in the winter.
Julia: They are amazing. My [crosstalk] pair there.
Sarina: Oh, they look so comfy, too.
Julia: They are.
Sarina: I like anything that’s soft and fuzzy and warm. I’m very easy to please. You said about writing that you need a clear mind, an uncluttered mind. Do you find that you avoid writing if you’re feeling stressed or if you have something worrying you? Or, is there anything that you do to unclutter your mind before you start writing?
Julia: Believe it or not, a few rounds of Tetris will help or a few rounds of Candy Crush will just help. [00:26:00] It just take away– I think the banality of the game and the mindless repetition of the game just helps me, almost like a meditation sort of thing, almost like taking a deep breath before I go in. That can sometimes help. But if I’m really stressed and worried, then there’s no point in even opening my laptop because nothing’s going to come out. Or if something does come out, it’s going to be deleted next day.
Sarina: No, that’s fair enough. What do you do when writing gets difficult for you? I think some people call this writer’s block, which I don’t believe in.
Julia: I’m going to make myself hated by every single writer if I say I never actually had writer’s block. [crosstalk]
Sarina: See, I don’t believe it exists, to be honest, so I’m right there with you.
Julia: I have the opposite problem. I have writer’s diarrhea. Is that a thing?
Sarina: It should be.
Julia: I have the problem, I have too many stories in my head, and it’s the, “Which one do I write next?” So many words. [00:27:00]
Sarina: Well, that’s good to know. I think with most people that when we talk about writer’s block, what they really mean is either that they’ve burned out on writing, and they need a break. Or, they’re procrastinating too much, and they don’t really want to write.
Julia: They’re overthinking it, maybe they’re just like we said, overthinking. I had one young writer who actually messaged me. I do get quite a lot of young writers who messaged me asking for advice, which is lovely. I’m not quite sure I’m the best person to ask, but I always do my best to help. One young writer said, “I just sit down and I’m just staring at a blank page and I can’t write anything. I’m trying to plot this book.” I said, “So just write a short story.”
Sarina: Yeah. don’t overthink it. Just write something.
Julia: “Go away, and write me a 100-word story, and come back to me tomorrow. Here’s your title.” She went, “Oh.” She went to work. She came back next day and said, “I’ve written it and it was really good.” I said, “How do you feel?” She said, “That was amazing. It was so exciting.” Looking at the word [00:28:00] count, thinking, “[gasps] I’ve gone up to 101 words, what word can I take out.” She said, “I feel is also helped me in preparation for writing the blog.” This understanding that you can pare down a sentence to its absolute basic, and it still made sense. But sometimes, words are too much, that more is not always a good thing, it’s sometimes just more. She said, “This is a fantastic exercise, and I am going to use this quite a lot in the future. This little flash fiction I wrote has actually given me an idea for another novel.” I was like, “Oh, there you go then.” Last I know, she was doing really well. She finished a book, so that was wonderful–[crosstalk]
Sarina: Oh, brilliant. Congratulations to this writer if she’s listening. Well done. This may be a slightly hated question, possibly for every author, but I’ll ask anyway. Where does your inspiration come from?
Julia: Oh, goodness me. I don’t know.
Julia: Usually out of the ether, spirit world, fifth dimension. [00:29:00] I don’t know. Sometimes, I can pin down the exact moment when a story idea comes to me. I remember before I wrote Book of Eve, I actually went to an aunt’s funeral. She was elderly and she’d been ill for a long time. I looked around at all these people at the funeral who I hadn’t seen some of them in years, and I suddenly thought how funerals are a great gathering place, maybe more so than weddings, because weddings are all about joy and happiness. Whereas a funeral is about hugging someone and sharing emotions, sharing these memories and nostalgia and regrets. I went away from that funeral with an idea in my head of starting a book at a funeral of actually starting the book with the death of the main character, their funeral, and then working from there.
I was sort of kicking ideas around about that and the ideas were brewing in my head. Then, I went to bed that night. Normally, I don’t dream, but this night I had a very vivid dream, and I dreamt [00:30:00] of a woman sitting on a white marble staircase with actual blood flowing down staircase. I woke up before, “Good heavens, where did that come from?” I knew that was the pivotal moment of the book that I had in my head. I don’t give too many spoilers, but it is one of the pivotal moments in the book. If you want to know how those two things connect, you’ll have to read the book.
Apart from that, all my other books have just floated in. Obviously, Black Ice, I was given the remit of Snow White. I had that as barebones to work from. The only others book that I can definitely pinpoint the exact moment and go, “There, that’s where that came from,” was The Forest. It’s a long time ago, it’s about 10 years ago, and I was at a big family party. One of those family parties that go from great-grandfathers sitting in the corner, clutching a pint of beer, down to babies and push chairs in the other corner and every generation in between, huge family party. It was getting towards the end of the party. [00:31:00] My brother and I were sitting there, finishing up a bottle of wine between us. Just sitting there and listening. There was a group of grandfathers, an elderly gentleman behind us having a wonderful conversation about the past and people they knew. Suddenly, my ear was caught by the most amazing name I’ve ever heard in my life. One old gent lent across to the other old gent and said, “Whatever happened to old Wally Twitchett?”
Julia: My brother and I just looked at each other and I turned around and said, “Who?” [laughs] He said, “Wally Twitchett.” I said, “Please tell me that was the real person.” they said, “Oh, yeah, old Wally used to ride around the village on his old bike, he did. Wonder he didn’t fall off it.” By the time I got home that evening, I had Wally Twitchett in my head. I knew what he looked like down to the rickety old bone-shaker bike, down to his patched with clean clothes, his protruding Adam’s apple and [00:32:00] a big braggy nose. I had him in my head. I had to find a wonderful village for him to live in, a quirky village, full of equally quirky people as him. I had so much fun with the names in The Forest. I really did. The names are amazing.
This forest, plus village, the inhabitants of the village are very strange, very insular, and they never ever leave the village. “Ooh. [whispering] Why? Why never? Because the village is next forest that has a curse on. “[gasp] A curse. I like that.” That’s how my process goes. One idea sparks another, and it’s almost like the voices in my head are brainstorming. It’s like they’re having a session where everyone– and I can almost imagine the head of the meeting going, “Come on, think outside the box people! Throw the ideas in!” It is like that, it is a meeting with everyone just throwing in ideas and throwing it at the wall and seeing what sticks. That one, The Forest, I can definitely pinpoint the inspiration for that one. The others? [00:33:00] Not so much.
Sarina: Well, I think I’ve learned two things from that. One, we have very similar approaches. Two, family gatherings are your big inspiration focal point.
Julia: Yeah, [laughs] well, two of them. Yes.
Sarina: Yes. The book that you talked about that you started at a funeral, which book is that?
Julia: That’s The Book of Eve.
Sarina: All right, thank you. I couldn’t quite hear it earlier, wanted to make sure that we had the right title there.
Julia: Oh, sorry.
Sarina: That’s okay. Do you snack while you write and what’s your beverage of choice? You’ve already said tea and water.
Julia: Yes, tea first thing. I always have tea absolutely first thing in the morning because I find coffee too aggressive. But then mid-morning, I will always break it about 11 and go and have a coffee. I am rather partial– I have proper coffee, I won’t drink instant. The only time I ever deviate from that is, those little sachets you can buy a cappuccino and stuff? I like those. Yeah, I might treat myself to one of them. [00:34:00] But when I’m actually writing, it is a glass of water. A glass of water at arm’s length from my laptop. As to snacking, no, I have breakfast, I stop for lunch, and that’s it. I don’t eat at the laptop, I don’t snack. Well, also, because you get your fingers dirty and the keyboard gets really grungy and that.
Sarina: It’s actually quite annoying to do, isn’t it? For example, say if you were to eat crisps, then you’d have all the dust on your fingers and then you would just get the keyboard dirty.
Julia: I don’t want to clean my keys. Yes.
Sarina: Some of it you never get out again. Then your keyboard just forever smells of cheese or whatever it is that you had.
Sarina: I think you’ve already mentioned some of this as well. Do you listen to music while you write? I’m pretty sure that’s a no.
Julia: No, I don’t. The only time I ever listened to music was when a long time ago, I wrote my novella Lifesong and that was inspired by the music of the composer Karl Jenkins, and his [00:35:00] extraordinary album, Adiemus. it’s the exploration of human voice vocalizing without actual words, just made-up words. Everyone will know this of a certain age because they did the music for the British Airways ad with the people on the beach, making the symbol, that sort of song. I did while I was writing Lifesong, I did very much put on that that album, and each track kind of inspired a different piece of the book. It was very, very specific, but that’s the only time. The rest of the time, ti’s silence for me.
Sarina: This is a mean question and I’ve had all kinds of interesting reactions when I’ve asked it. Which book has inspired you the most?
Julia: Ooh, okay. [pause] Oh, I have read so many books. I learned to read at a very early age. I was reading by myself [00:36:00] because I was a very lonely child, so books were my refuge. I would have to say that going back right into the dawn of time, obviously when dinosaurs roamed the earth when I was young, Enid Blyton, The Magic Faraway Tree was my first exploration of the fantasy genre. Now, I know some people may turn around and say to me, “It’s not a fantasy book,” but three children go to a fantastical wood and climb a magical tree that’s inhabited by elves and magical creatures, and has a portal to other worlds at the top. If that’s not fantasy, then what is? It is fantasy. That triggered a lot of books not just being an escape from your world, but being an escape into a different world, to a different world of people with other creatures and other worlds that didn’t abide by the same laws as ours, perhaps. That was very early on.
Later, of course, the Narnia books. Absolutely. I don’t think there can be any [00:37:00] fantasy author who can honestly say hand on their heart, they didn’t read the Narnia books, and were not inspired by them. [crosstalk]
Sarina: [unintelligible [00:37:08] haven’t read them.
Julia: Oh, my goodness, you have to. It was YA fantasy before anybody even knew what that was. Narnia is such– I have no words to describe, you have to read it.
Sarina: Okay. Maybe I’ll make a point of it this year.
Julia: They’re short books. Seriously, I constantly go back and reread them, just touching base with where it all began for me. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I can read that in a couple of hours. They’re very light quick books. They’re children’s books with a heart and a message in them. The impact cannot be underestimated, the impact that these books had on a generation, are still having. So, the Narnia books, and then when I was slightly [00:38:00] older– [unintelligible [00:38:03] I read Narnia when I was eight, maybe younger, seven, eight that kind of age. When I was slightly older 11, 12, I discovered the amazing British fantasy books by an author called Susan Cooper. She wrote The Dark Is Rising series, which are extraordinary books. They really are extraordinary. What I liked about them was they are so British. The focus is on British mythology and British myths and legends. Things like the Green Man, the Wild Hunt, Wayland’s Smithy, just things like that. They instilled a love in me of British fantasy, which came through in my books, Erinsmore and in Forest, that sort of acknowledgement of my roots. I’m very British.
Other than that, I think one book that sticks out in my mind is, it’s an Agatha Christie book called The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I remember when I was mid to late teens, I went through a [00:39:00] Agatha Christie binge where I think I read every single thing she ever wrote, one massive binge-fest, eat read of her books. This particular book blew my mind away because it was the first book I had ever read with an unreliable narrator. [crosstalk] Yes, where the person who was telling the story is lying to the reader.
Julia: Yes. It’s not until you reach the end– I don’t want to give any spoilers, it’s not until you reach the end that you realize that every single thing this narrator has told you has been a lie or has been from his point of view because he’s hiding the truth from you.
Sarina: That’s interesting.
Julia: That’s just– mind blown. The fact the narrator could lie to the reader. I read very few books since then that do that. I think it’s a very brave thing to do, and it has to be handled right. Of course, Agatha Christie was just the queen what she did. Her books are actually really short. [00:40:00] Nowadays, we always call them novellas, but she manages to get the entire story and it’s beautiful, and it tells you everything you need to know in that very small space of time. I think we could all do with reading a bit about and just seeing how she does it, how brevity of words can sometimes get across the message much more so than great big, long purple prose and everything. So, that one as well. Of course, Robin Hobb. I have long and abiding love for Robin Hobb.
Sarina: I had started reading Robin Hobb entirely because of you on Instagram.
Julia: Aww. [chuckles]
Sarina: I’ve still only read the one, but I’ve really, really enjoyed it.
Julia: They get better and better.
Sarina: All of her books are in my list now.
Julia: Yeah, they get better and better because she allowed herself the luxury of space and time and word counts to just have this amazing, epic story that she was like, “Okay, I’m not going to tell this in the first book. It’s not going to get told in book two, book three, book four. In fact, it’s going to take 17 books.”
Julia: Yeah. 17 [00:41:00] books to tell the story. You know what, you’re going to love every single word I write, and you’re going to hang on. When you finished book 17, you’re going to go, “No, I want more!” That made me unafraid to write big books. That actually inspired me that so long as a book is a page turner, it doesn’t matter how many pages there are. That gave me the courage to write books like Becoming Lili, Chaining Daisy, Black Ice. Big, big books, weighty books. But I have readers contact me and say, “I read Black Ice in a day, I couldn’t put it down.” That, I think, is the thing.
Sarina: On a very similar note, do you have a favorite book on the craft of writing?
Julia: Never read a book on the craft of writing. Is that a terrible thing to say? I’ve never ever–
Julia: I don’t like self-help books, full stop. I think they are mostly peddled by people [00:42:00] who couldn’t write an actual book, so decided to write a self-help book and scammed a lot of people out of money.
Sarina: Oh, see, I have a few of those books. [chuckles]
Julia: I just don’t have time to read them. I’m too busy writing. Is that crazy?
Sarina: No. You clearly are a reader anyway. It’s not like you’re a writer only and you don’t read at all, you do read quite a lot.
Julia: [crosstalk] I do read.
Sarina: Because we seem to be so similar in our approaches, I’m wondering if maybe you’re missing out there a little bit because I love reading a good book on writing. If it’s a good book– I mean they’re not all going to work for you, because as you said, there are so many different ones and not everyone does it well, I don’t think. My favorites are the ones that I can close and I immediately feel inspired to pick up writing again. Those ones are my favorites, because I feel like I’m really taking something away from them.
Julia: Well, who knows? Maybe if I get a bit of time in the future, [00:43:00] I’ll have a look at one, but I do like that. Any spare time I have, I tend to like reading novels or other sort of works of fiction and usually of indie authors. Last year, I managed to buy, read, and review over 40 indie author books. I really want to do more, but it’s just a question of time. I’m just one person and there’s so many books on my TBR.
Sarina: Oh yeah. [crosstalk]
Julia: Oh, I don’t look at my Kindle. I swear that thing growls at me every time I go [laughs] past it.
Sarina: Yeah, I get the feeling. I’m now considering already the next books that I would quite like to buy and read, but then I think I’ve just bought a few they are still on my Kindle, I still haven’t read them. I should probably read those first. It’s not that simple, though.
Julia: Every now and again, I get a big stick and just stir up the contents of my Kindle and see what floats to the top. Sometimes, I’ll read a book that I actually bought [00:44:00] two, three, four years ago. I’ll finally get around to reading and reviewing it. It’s difficult, and I do feel guilty about it. But like I said, I’m just one person and I only have a certain amount of time.
Sarina: On to our last question, we’re nearly there. Do you have any advice for establishing a writing routine?
Julia: Don’t do what I do, probably.
Julia: I think sometimes establishing a writing zone can be a good idea. Now, I know most people don’t have big enough houses to have an actual writing room. That would be amazing. Wouldn’t we all love that? Just to have a proper study where we go and shut the door and that would be great? But most of us do have a corner or somewhere where we can put– even if it was just a little fold-up desk or a little table something that’s ours that we can leave or laptop or desktop or whatever on, we can have our pens, we can have our lamp, we can have our [00:45:00] writing books or notebooks or whatever. A zone that is ours and ours alone for writing in. If you have family and other people in the house, maybe rub into them that that is your zone, that they don’t touch it, they don’t dump their stuff on it, they don’t take anything from it. And when you are at that table, it’s because you are working. Unless it’s fire, flood, or blood, they must not disturb you.
I think trying to get across to people that it is important to what you’re doing, maybe it’s not important to them, but it’s important to you. I think maybe you do have to be a little bit firm about that. Maybe be firm to yourself. I actually posted a meme a few weeks ago, which said, “If you clean a house, it’ll stay clean for a day or two. If you write a book, it’s out there forever.” I think sometimes saying to yourself, yes, I do need to go and [unintelligible [00:45:58] the bedroom, or, I do need to go and do the dishes, but [00:46:00] they will always be there for me to do. So, yeah, maybe be a little bit selfish sometimes, maybe just say, “Oh, hang it. I am writing, that’s what I’m doing.” I don’t believe in how you must write every day, because most of us have incredibly busy lives and it’s not always possible. If you’re a parent and you’re working, then obviously your job and your kids come first. But then, sometimes, I think you need to be selfish to say, [unintelligible [00:46:25] need to do it.” I hope that answered the question.
Sarina: It does. That’s wonderful advice. Thank you very much. I completely agree. That brings us to the end of our interview today. Thank you very much for coming back and talking to me again.
Julia: Having me anytime, I enjoyed it.
Sarina: Very good. I’m glad to hear that. I always love hearing about other writers’ routines anyway, and I like to see how we all approach the same thing in slightly different ways. Today, especially I think I’ve come away with quite a few book recommendations. [00:47:00]
Julia: Oh. Narnia, definitely read the Narnia books.
Sarina: No, I’ve already opened– what was it? The Dark Is Rising. I have already opened it on Goodreads while we were talking. I’ve got it ready, and I’ll be sure to get it later because it sounds like everything I want. Thank you so much for that as well.
Julia: You’re welcome.
Sarina: Yeah, thank you very much for talking to me again today. Have a lovely day. Bye-bye.
Julia: Thank you, bye.
Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @Sarian_Langer, on Instagram and Facebook @SarinaLangerWriter, and of course on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.
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